If watching Senate Republicans turn a blind eye to duty, truth, their oaths of office, public opinion, and the well-being of the republic left you with a pit in your stomach this week, then rest assured that you are not alone. But while most of this blog's readers knew the fix was in before the Senate charade ever started, many Americans likely did not. In poll after poll after poll, voters told pollsters that they wanted and in some polls expected to hear from witnesses. For starters, it was common sense. Everyone knows that trials include witnesses, and historically every single impeachment trial until now has also included witness testimony.
Making matters worse for Senate Republicans, Donald Trump's defenders in the House had whined relentlessly about "second-, third-, fourth-, and fifthhand" witnesses. They made firsthand witnesses indispensable and suggested America would never know the truth without them. Even Trump spent a good portion of the fall and winter clamoring for witnesses once the impeachment inquiry reached the Senate, where finally things would be fair.
And almost magically, the star witness appeared: former White House national security adviser John Bolton. He was a West Wing insider with direct access to Trump and a veteran of every Republican administration dating back to Ronald Reagan. He was a conservative stalwart and rock-ribbed defense hawk with sterling cred among GOP lawmakers. Even better, progressives typically despised him, making him among the most trustworthy of witnesses among Republicans. And lo and behold, unlike other Trump officials, he was willing to talk and even said so in a statement issued right as the Senate got back to work in the New Year. What luck!
Now just imagine America's surprise as the perfect firsthand witness went untapped for weeks on end. After months of Trump hyping all that witness testimony in the Senate, he suddenly went cold on the idea. When his attorneys began to argue their case, the nation was told that House managers had utterly failed to prove Trump's guilt on one hand but that further inquiry was verboten on the other. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell even tried to kill the mere prospect of witness testimony before the trial ever started, but he was ultimately reduced to making handwritten adjustments in the margins of his resolution so that calling witnesses could be considered after both impeachment teams had made their case. Apparently, even some members of McConnell's caucus didn't see how they could sell that preemptive gag order back home.
As the trial ground on, suspense built with headlines emerging about what Bolton had committed to paper in his forthcoming book. First, the public learned Trump had told Bolton directly he wanted to continue withholding aid to Ukraine until the country's top officials started investigations into Democrats and, more specifically, the Bidens. Next, Bolton's manuscript expressed his distress over Trump granting personal favors to autocratic leaders in his view. Finally, as the trial headed toward that crucial vote on witness testimony Friday, another morning jolt brought news that White House counsel Pat Cipollone—Trump's lead attorney at the trial—had witnessed Trump ordering Bolton to help with his pressure campaign by facilitating a meeting between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Rudy Giuliani.
As if all that wasn't enough, news also broke Friday that Giuliani associate Lev Parnas was prepared to detail the entire conspiracy in testimony, front to back, with receipts. As former federal prosecutor Joyce Vance noted on MSNBC, "This is a prosecutor's dream, right? You've actually got Lev Parnas and John Bolton in a bidding war over who gets to be your star witness." Wow, how could Republicans possibly pass up the wealth of information beating down the doors to the Senate chamber?
And yet, that's exactly what they voted to do late Friday. In the face of polls showing nearly three-quarters of the country agreed on the need for witnesses, Senate Republicans turned their backs on America. Sure, they're public servants who've been entrusted with the responsibility of protecting the Constitution. But when the time came to take a principled stand, they saluted to Individual 1, circled the wagons, and deep-sixed testimony for the remainder of the trial. All that's left of the Senate proceeding is a bunch of self-gratifying speechifying as Senate Republicans try to recast their cowardice in acceptable terms.
The cover-up is complete. And it wasn't just helpful to Trump, it was an absolute necessity. If Bolton had testified, he would have implicated multiple Trump officials in Trump's scheme, including Cipollone, Trump's chief defense attorney. Just to be clear, most legal scholars were aghast that anyone from the White House counsel's office was defending Trump in the first place. It's a taxpayer-funded position charged with representing the Office of the President, not the president him/herself. But what we know now is that he wasn't just protecting Trump, he was protecting himself, serving himself—on the taxpayers' dime. Trump's Ukraine conspiracy was a global effort among his top advisers. Everyone knew, even the White House counsel (who, by the way, is supposedly leading an inquiry into who put the transcript of Trump's July 25th call with President Volodymyr Zelensky into the super secret server.) Or as Gordon Sondland said repeatedly, "Everyone was in the loop." Yet, among Trump's looped-in top advisers, only one person is willing to talk.
As a matter of civic service, the nation could have benefited from hearing Bolton's truth during the Senate trial. Some Americans who had not followed the House hearing closely enough to see how corrosive Trump's actions were would have walked away better informed about the unimaginable danger he poses to the nation.
But politically speaking, this proceeding was never about putting Trump on trial—everyone who had been paying attention knew the outcome in advance, including Nancy Pelosi. It was about putting the GOP-led Senate on trial. That's why Pelosi held the articles of impeachment for nearly a month, so she could frame the proceeding as a referendum on Senate Republicans. And guess what? They failed spectacularly in a disgraceful show of craven hubris. They couldn't even fake impartiality long enough to allow for witnesses to be heard. In the end, they offered America no justice—no feeling of finality—just a hollow sense of being wronged with no recourse.
But here's the silver lining: During a time when Washington commanded the attention of most Americans and when polling consistently showed that voters overwhelmingly craved resolution, Senate Republicans exposed themselves a nothing short of tools of Trump's regime. They no longer serve the people, they serve him and him only.
Pundits across spectrum smelled trouble for Senate Republicans. "I think (McConnell) underestimates the backlash to this vote," conservative radio host Charlie Sykes told MSNBC. "I think people are going to be a lot more angry about this vote on the witnesses than folks in Washington really understand. And it really does put the Senate in play."
Former GOP operative Nicolle Wallace called the vote “political suicide,” adding, “I hope they take it." They did.
So as we enter the start of the Democratic nomination contest in earnest on Monday, bundle up all that rage and take it to the polls. Let it drive your engagement and participation throughout the rest of the year until Election Day.
"Never stop being a prisoner of hope," Sen. Cory Booker told MSNBC this week at a dark moment, invoking the resolve shown throughout history after the Battle of Bunker Hill, the Birmingham Church bombing, and the showdown at Stonewall. "This election is about so much more now than a choice between a Democrat and Republican president."
Published with permission from Daily Kos.